Friday, October 5, 2012

Classic Children of the 90s Repost: Popular Young Children's Books of the 80s and 90s

Children's authors set the groundwork for a new generation to develop a deep love of reading, so it's critical that their output is engaging and amusing enough to hold our limited attention. Plus, our parents often bore the burden of reading these books to us again and again until they could have recited them from memory, so it helped if authors could throw in some humor that satiated the appetites of both adults and children.

These books satisfied both criteria in balance and firmly established a place in our collective nostalgic heart for their silliness, fun, and wit. Let's take a stroll through the magical world of 80s and 90s young children's books. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll develop a catchy rhyming scheme. Don't blame me if you start talking Seusically, though. It should wear off in 10-12 hours.

If You Give A Mouse a Cookie

We all know what happens when you start giving mice cookies. They're insatiable little rodents, really. At least that's the central message of Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. He'll just keep bleeding you dry with favors until he finally just wants a cookie again. There's just no winning. Maybe if you try giving a Moose a Muffin or a Pig a Pancake things might turn out differently. Maybe.

Love You Forever

If you're a leaky-faucet type crier easily set off by emotional material, be warned that you'll release the floodgates by the last cycle of "I love you forever, I love you for always, as long as you're living, my baby you'll be." The book details the relationship of a mother and her young son as she recites the same refrain to him at various stages of his life. Near the end of the story, the adult child recites it back to his dying elderly mother and finally to his own infant daughter. The book resonates well with adults and children alike; it seems the older you get, the more likely you'll want to keep a full box of tissues nearby when you pick this one up.

The Eleventh Hour and Animalia

I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three years trying to trace these gorgeous illustrations in hopes of miraculously transferring Graeme Base's incredible art talent onto my own hopelessly skill-free hands. Base's books may be visually enchanting, but in the case of The Eleventh Hour they're also incredibly tricky. I still haven't managed to solve all of the many riddles embedded in the story. I almost caved and broke into the solution in the back, but I'm still holding out hope that the answer will just come to me.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales

Revisionist fairy tales can be a lot of fun, and this Wolf-narrated version of the classic Three Little Pigs story is no exception. Our allegedly mistakenly accused suspect, Alexander T. Wolf, describes his troubles in borrowing sugar to bake a cake for his Granny's birthday. Is it his fault he has a terrible cold and that pigs build inferior non-sneeze-resistant houses? How could you let a delicious ham dinner like that go to waste, after all?

Along the same lines and written by the same witty author (Jon Scieszka), The Stinky Cheese Man gives us an irreverent look at some of our favorite classic fairy tales. The Gingerbread Man is the Stinky Cheese Man, The Really Ugly Duckling just grows into a Really Ugly Duck, and Little Red Riding Shorts manages to outrun the wolf on the way to Grandma's. The book is a bit chaotic, but it's legitimately clever and witty, too.

Arthur Books

Marc Brown was clearly onto something when he created this lovable anthropomorphic eight-year old aardvark named Arthur. Populating Arthur's hometown of Elwood City are a host of other cuddly animal characters with varying socioeconomic backgrounds, leading me to find that yes, you can indeed be jealous of a fictional monkey. Darn you, Muffy, and your enviable rich-monkey lifestyle.

The Jolly Postman

Kids have pretty short attention spans, so an interactive book is always a major draw: it's like a combination book/game rolled into a neat little package. To be delivered by a postman. A jolly postman.

In The Jolly Postman, our hero postman maneuvers from one fairy tale house to another, delivering correspondences (an apology note from Golidlocks and the 3 bears), junk mail (an advertisement for "Hobgoblin Supplies, ltd."), and even threats of legal action (the case of the Wolf v. Miss Riding Hood.) The jolly postman stops for tea at each home, delivering letters that we as readers could physically open and read.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Learning the alphabet can be pretty boring, so imagine how relieved we were to find a book that turns dry and humorless letters into cute anthropomorphic characters. Our fearless letters climb the tree in orderly A-B-C succession, only to fall back down and sustain alphabetized injuries. Ouch.

Where the Wild Things Are

Monsters might seem like a scary, lurking under the bed prospect until we learn that in our imaginations we can just dance with them in a wild rumpus instead. Sounds like a decent solution to me. The back-story is possibly as entertaining as the tale itself: author Maurice Sendak had initially planned for the book to feature wild horses, but his publisher shunned Sendak's sub-par horse drawings. Sendak replaced the horses with caricatures of his Polish Jewish aunts and uncles: Aaron, Bernard, Emile, Moishe, and Tzippy. I imagine they were thrilled to find their likenesses titled "things."

Berenstain Bears

This friendly bear family has been teaching kids valuable life lessons for generations. I believe I read the Visit to the Dentist book at my own dentist's office at least twenty times, which helped assuage my fear of the infamous yankers while simultaneously teaching me about the untapped goldmine of cash at stake for my expendable baby teeth. Win-win.

Amelia Bedelia

What do you get when you combine a charming rhyming named housekeeper and a penchant for extreme literal interpretation of simple instructions? Pure children's book gold. Amelia Bedelia draws the drapes by trying her hand at sketching the curtains and prunes the hedges by sticking prunes in them. We learned the value of simple vocabulary and double meanings, plus I got some great ideas for how to make a mockery of my household chores,

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Though it may have become a cliche gift for recent graduates, Dr. Seuss's final book is ultimately inspirational and sweet. The book details our protagonist's travel through uncharted territory, complete with setbacks and triumphs. So go ahead, give it to your graduating cousin or neighbor. He'll probably be able to start a collection with all of the copies he receives, but he may just learn a valuable lesson about endless possibilities.

The Rainbow Fish

This book seems pretty innocent with its message of sharing, so imagine my surprise in discovering it's taken some flack from critics for allegedly promoting a socialist agenda. It's a pretty preposterous accusation; it's enough to make you wish yourself back to a simpler time when you didn't know what things like "socialist agenda" even meant.


Fruit bats are adorable and owls are evil? What kind of crazy mixed-up pre-Harry Potter owl love affair world is this? Stellaluna is separated from her mother and is raised with a nest full of baby birds, the mother of whom admonishes her for hanging upside down like, well, a bat. In case you were worried, she does eventually reunite with her mother, but the book has a bit of a melancholy feel through the whole "be true to yourself" message.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Post: Celebrating 20 Years of "Must See TV"

Greetings, Children of the ’90s! My name is Frank Anthony Polito and I’m the author of the recently-released novel Lost in the ’90s.
As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ’90s lately. It’s hard to believe the decade that gave us Blossom, Beavis and Butt-head, and Blink-182 began over 20 years ago!

One of my favorite (and long forgotten) TV shows will actually turn 20 this coming August. How many of you Children of the ’90s remember the FOX drama The Heights featuring teen heart throb and singing sensation Jamie Walters -- who later appeared on Beverly Hills, 902010 as Ray Pruit?

The Heights focused on a fictional band called (what else?) “The Heights” and starred Walters as lead singer Alex O’Brien. The show also featured Charlotte Ross, then known for her Emmy nominated role as troubled teen 
Eve Donovan on Days of our Lives. Take a look at a scene from The Heights’ first episode:

While we’re on the topic of 20-year anniversaries... Here are a few other TV classics that also debuted in 1992. How many of these shows do you Children of the ’90s remember watching when you were growing up?

Barney & Friends - First airing on April 6, 1992, and featuring everybody’s favorite singing purple T-Rex. This show served as the babysitter to many a Child of the ’90s!

Goof Troop - Single father, Goofy, moves back to his hometown of Spoonerville with 11-year-old son, Max. The show premiered on April 20, 1992 on The Disney Channel and was adapted into a feature film A Goofy Movie in 1995.

Melrose Place - This steamy primetime soap centered around a group of 20-somethings living in the same West Hollywood apartment complex, and was recently revived (and soon-after canceled) by The CW. Episodes began airing on July 8, 1992.  

California Dreams - another show about a band, this multi-ethnic teen-oriented sitcom aired on Saturday mornings on NBC beginning on September 12, 1992. Check out the pilot episode below:

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years! Where has the time gone?

FRANK ANTHONY POLITO is an award-winning author and playwright. He received his BFA in Theatre from Wayne State University and his MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon. He grew up in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park and currently resides in Sunnyside, Queens, NY.

LOST IN THE ’90s tells the story of a teenage boy from 2012 who travels back in time to April 1994, on the eve of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. There, he meets his teenage parents and helps them fall in love so that he can born. (Think of it as a ’90s Back to the Future without Doc Brown or the DeLorean.) The book is chock-full of ’90s pop culture and musical references, including the #1 hit tune from November 1992, “How Do You Talk to an Angel” which plays an integral role in the plot.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Post: Typical 90s Saturdays

Happy Friday, 90s fans! I must apologize for the lack of recent posts--as usual, I have a slew of readily available but totally honest excuses: we moved to a new city, I started a new job, I had a lot of wedding thank you notes to finish. You've probably heard them all before...

Anywho, have no fear--new posts should be on the way. Speaking of which, we are taking submissions for guest entries! With the demands of a new job, my recent writing availability has been few and far between. Here's where you come in: if you have an idea for a Children of the 90s post, feel free to pitch it. Not in the typical baseball sense, of course--that might smash my laptop screen. I'm thinking more of a dynamic e-mail conversation that characterizes what we consider an exciting interaction here in the 21st century.

Who knows--your post might just end up on our front page. We welcome submissions and pitches at childrenofthe90s(at)gmail(dot)com. Bring 'em on!

And now, without further ado: in honor of the impending weekend, the following post from guest writer Natalie celebrates a typical Saturday in the life of a 90s child:

The 90s: The Typical Child's Saturday

Think back to the day you turned 12 years old. What did you see around you? The television is on and undoubtedly turned to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or maybe Rocko's Modern Life on Nickelodeon. Daniel Tosh wasn't even on the air yet, instead we had good old America's Funniest Home Videos to watch for hours on end.

It didn't just end with TV back in the 90s. Everything was different, everything was awesome. You could wake up to find great cartoons on first thing on a Saturday morning, have your favorite bowl of Fruity Pebbles and hop on your Super Nintendo or Sega for a morning of fun.

Maybe afterward you would gather your Beanie Babies (which at the time we all thought would one day be worth millions, but still aren't worth a thing) together with your price book and dream with the neighbor kid how rich you would be when you turned 16 and these things paid out.

After business was conducted for the day, it was time for lunch. Back then, we got our favorite toys at McDonalds. Guys got the action figures and girls go the dolls. Most importantly, they all had small and dangerous parts. We all survived one way or another. If we were lucky, Good Burger was on just as we returned from lunch. Could it get any better?


As the day started to roll away, it was time for a snack. Whether it was a Fruit by the Foot, a Fruit Roll-Up, or Gushers, every kid always had a favorite fruit snack. Everybody also knew that one kid at school whose family wouldn't buy the "cool" snacks, so we were always happy to throw him a couple Gushers or split off a piece of the Fruit Roll-Up. Once in a while, somebody would show up with a fancy GoGurt at school. But, hey- let's not get school involved on our ultimate Saturday afternoon.

One thing that no 90s kid will ever forget about Saturday's is Pokémon. Whether trading the cards and pretending to actually know how to play the game, watching it on TV or firing up the good old black and white Game Boy,Pokémon was a part of our everyday lives. The cards could almost be used as a currency, traded away for whatever you may want to make your afternoon perfect.


If you were lucky growing up, you almost always you had a friend sleep over or you were staying somewhere else other than your house on a Saturday night. With shows like Ahh! Real Monsters, The Wild Thornberry's, Hey! Arnold and Doug on SNICK, how could you possibly go wrong?

Not to mention all thetalking babies (think Rugrats) and animals we all had a thing for. If you were lucky, it was already nine o'clock and your young self was getting tired. Your friends would turn the TV volume all the way down and it was on. Whether Jet Force Gemini, Donkey Kong64 or any other game, it didn't matter. After an hour or so of intense gaming you'd find yourself drifting off... Then only to awake, 15 years later and to realize it was all a dream.

Don't you wish you could go back?


Natalie Wilkins has been a professional writer and researcher for the last five years. Throughout this time she has worked for many weird and wonderful companies including an organic Tempurpedic mattress retailer and an elephant orphanage. The wide range of opportunities available is exactly why she loves her job.

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